Formerly in the heart of ‘East’ Germany, the Neues Leben of the show’s title refers to the main East German Publishing House, active until 1989, when the state collapsed. On my visits to Leipzig I had seen many fading murals from DDR(East Germany) time on the ends of buildings extoling the virtues of Soviet Life. For example“Those who go with the Soviet union will be the winners in History” on the post office as well as more mundane celebrations of youth groups or straight DDR advertising. These murals are very old fashioned but also quite beautiful, and are rapidly dissapearing under the massive construction in the city. Now the city is like any other major European conurbation, saturated with ‘capitalist’ advertising of every imaginable kind and in every place. I wanted to make a mural for this project, using this completely anachronistic medium. The modern ‘murals’ of capitalism are computer generated and are printed on a fine mesh which is then stretched over the building in use. However, I wanted my mural to hark back to the pedagogic certainty of the previous era, painted directly on to the surface of the wall. The entreaties of the communist era have been replaced by the mantra of late capitalism. I wanted to propose a new idea, a new space which the casual viewer could consider, but in this old media that people were strangely sentimental about . In translation, the text reads:
REAL LIFE AND HOW TO LIVE IT
- – BURN YOUR PASSPORT
- – ABOLISH GEOGRAPHY
- – EMBRACE STATELESSNESS
- – RENOUNCE CITIZENSHIP
- – EXPLODE BORDERS
- – ANNIHILATE NATIONS
- – IGNORE CONTINENTS
- – DISSOLVE CITIES
- – ABANDON REPUBLICS
- – SECEDE
An open letter to whomsoever it may concern regarding: Scotland
– A brief and fractured introduction to the history of the1983 – 2083
Thinking about the things that people forgot about because they weren’t written down in history books.
The year is 2083 Anno Domini and Transmission Gallery is one hundred years old today. The place is The Peoples’ Republic of Scotia, a small, nothern European nation with agreeably changeable weather. More than twenty years have passed since Scotlandachieved its long cherished ambition, Independence from England and the Crown. However, this occurred at some cost to the Scottish people…
The Path to Freedom?
At the Stirling Bridge Referendum of 2061, a handsome majority of the Scottish people decided that they wished to secede from the United Kingdom of Great Britain. There were five million or so inhabitants in this poor, damp, country, for so long under the sword of one conquering invader or another. And this populace eventually decided, once and for all, to leave the Union in order to implement a novel plan to completely re-invent the Nation in a manner never before heard of anywhere in the world. The new official name they chose for the re-invented Scotland, from those suggested, was: Scotia – The Living History of a Small Nation. At first glance this may sound like a strange name for a small country, newly independent after 500 years of struggle, but to explain this unprecedented move: the Scots had voted en masse to turn the whole country, and everyone in it, into the world’s first national scale historical theme park. And it was to be of truly epic proportions.
In 2062, almost overnight, a big fence was built along the border with England. This was not to keep the poor Scottish people in, as you might have thought, but to keep everyone else out, because now you were going to have to pay to get in – and it wasn’t going to be cheap.
Most people north of Hadrian’s Wall were initially very enthusiastic about this new development, as Scotland in the middle twenty-first Century was suffering a horrific depression, the likes of which had not been seen since the middle ages of the previous millennium. Diseases which had lain dormant for centuries had returned with a vengeance and were killing off poor people in tens of thousands. Those who couldn’t afford the simple drugs which prevented these grotesque diseases became truly outcast, living in pathetic ragged groups like the leper colonies of biblical times. Thus they were not represented on any voting rolls and therefore did not take part in the ‘democratic’ Stirling Bridge Referendum of 2061.
Officially they did not even exist. By the 2040’s they had become such a problem that large walls were built round the major cities to keep them out and the people who lived inside them tried to forget about those poor wretches who were outside.
When the idea for the theme park was first mooted in the mid 2050’s it fired up the Scottish people’s imagination, galvanising them into an intense debate and direct action not witnessed for many decades. The publicity generated by these debates slowly encouraged many ex-patriots to return home. There were at least twenty million people around the world who considered themselves Scottish by ancestry, but had never actually been ‘home’; this turned out to be quite fortuitous as some of these folk were very rich and brought back their fortunes with them to invest in the park. It was the first good idea anyone in Scotland had thought of for quite a while so it was no wonder it caught on so quickly. It also helped them forget about all the horror that went on outside the city walls.
At this point in the 2050’s, before the park was built, the Parliamentary Monarchy of England had many problems of its own. Its coffers were much depleted after protracted wars with France and Ireland.¡ It simply could not afford to worry about Scotland anymore, particularly since the oil had run out. England’s international reputation had sunk to an all time low and it was the popularly held belief that Westminster was, in fact, quite happy to finally get rid of its troublesome and costly Northern appendage.
Most poor parts of the world were really wasted with wars and famines while diseases and bad planning had made millions of people unhappy. Everywhere had been discovered, nowhere was remote or savage anymore. Scotland wasn’t actually too bad in comparison with the war torn ‘outside world’. Although there certainly were plenty of poor and diseased and unhappy people (mainly those living outside the city walls), there had never really been any kind of modern, technological warfare to physically mar the natural beauty of the place. When proposals for the park became public, it transpired that the outsiders (as these outcast people were known) were to be rounded up and put in hostel camps to be re-habilitated out of harm’s way, up in the northern parts of the country, because now it suited the country’s leaders to help them as plenty of workers would be needed for the park. There were big areas in the North of Scotland where most of the people had been thrown out in what was called The Highland Clearances which began in the nineteenth Century. They were replaced with sheep during the blockades of the Napoleonic wars because these animals were actually more profitable than people. The outsiders were to re-populate these remote areas for the benefit of the tourists, in what became known as: The Highland Clearances in Reverse.
The basic idea for Scotia – The Living History of a Small Nation, when it opened in 2062, was very simple. Each area of the country would adopt the look and lifestyle of a certain epoch in Scottish history. Everyone who lived in these areas would adopt the mores and manners of their designated period. Our best actors would play the great figures in our history, exept they wouldn’t so much play them as be them, since they never got the chance to be off set or out of costume. This should be stressed. The whole country was subsumed into the park, you couldn’t escape it. Anyone else who happened to live in Scotland at the time got the chance to stay on, if they wanted. This was to reflect for the tourists, the tolerant atmosphere created by the mixture of people who originally came from elsewhere to settle in this small country. However, you couldn’t really have people coming and going all the time so it was decided that employment for the lower ranks in the park would be a bit like the volunteer Armies of the twentieth Century, where you signed on the dotted line and agreed to stay for something like 3 years at a time.
All Scotland’s most spectacular battles and events were re-enacted daily in the hills and glens of the Highlands; tourists would flock to the most barren and remote places searching for the theme park’s most authentic experiences. Thus a visitor from China or Perucould easily get a vivid impression of the whole history of our small nation in only a week or so, not to mention seeing the wonderful scenery. All the original flora and fauna were restored – complex deciduous forests filled with wolf, boar and all the other interesting animals that used to live in the place, but had eventually died out because the Scots didn’t take care of them properly.
The Scottish people appeared to be quite happy in their new occupation as Real Life extras in this simulated version of history. Scotland became very succesful and prosperous and everyone agreed that re-inventing itself as a theme park had been a really great idea. Everything was free for Scottish people, although the tourists paid frankly outrageous prices just to breathe the same air as the Scots. From the outside it might have seemed like a bit of an odd situation: the Scottish people were basically providing a service for these tourists while achieving just about the same standard of living as them. But the Scots were tied to this way of life in the theme park, they could never go home to somewhere real or do a normal job – it was 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Even leisure pursuits were open and available for the global tourist to gawk at. However, it was a comfortable life, and few people complained, especially the ones who had previously been forced to live outside of society for the want of few pounds worth of cheap drugs.
The Main Cities of the Central Belt, Edinburgh and Glasgow
The City of Edinburgh elected to represent the pre-industrial Enlightment period of the city’s history, while Glasgow adopted the post-industrial or ‘Cultural period’. This era in the history of Glasgow originally occurred during a ten year period at the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first Centuries, when Glasgow was briefly very popular with global tourism. New museums of art and culture were built at a extraordinary rate and on the surface everything seemed to be going very well. These new repositories of culture championed a popular kind of art which everyone was supposed to be able to access.
There was a major problem though. The educational establishments which taught people from 5 years old upwards had, at this time in the late twentieth Century, stopped telling people anything about art and culture because it couldn’t get you a job in an office when you left school at 17. So, it came to the point where nobody felt they really knew anything about art and culture anymore, which was a great pity as Scotland had once been a very bright country. This made the public suspicious of the people who still made art and culture – and who could blame them? This self proclaimed ‘renaissance’ was advertised as providing art for the people but the problem was that the people never asked for it.
The flaw in this ‘renaissance’ was the approach the city fathers took to make culture more accessible to the public. They made all the culture so simplified and banal that it would appeal to everyone, even those who knew nothing about any form of cultural activity beforehand. Productions of plays which dealt with complex and difficult issues were discouraged, in favour of Busby Berkley style musical extravaganzas – everyone loved these. Visual art was reduced to greeting card designs, though painted in oils, naturally. Glaswegian literature, which was once incisive, politicised and independent, was now produced by the city itself, in defence of its own strategies. This New Glasgow Culture (as it became known) was very easy on the eye and on the ear, and provided a cosy hour or two of distraction out of the rain, and everyone – even those who stood against the imposition of this cultural equivalent of flock wallpaper – agreed that all these places of culture had lovely coffee bars.
…The initial appeal and excitement of this era quickly-dwindled when the people began to understand that they were being patronised. By the end of the first decade of the twenty-first Century this period was already seen by anyone who knew anything about life and culture to be truly daft. It eventually stupefied the locals by patronising them into thinking that they couldn’t understand any kind of culture that you had to think about for more than ten seconds. This led to the Scottish people becoming lazy. After being fed this sickly sweet culture mulch for many years they could no longer digest any kind of solid cultural food. They faded away to mere shadows of their former, robust selves, becoming thinner and paler and lethargic. They were losing the ability to think for themselves. Internationally, New Glasgow Culture was an embarrassment.
The Trongate Affair
This period ended for good in 2013 in what became known as The Trongate Affair. By this time various members of Transmission Gallery and other independently minded cultural spaces located in the area, had succesfully infiltrated over the years various committees and held numerous important positions in the local and national culture councils. From these positions they were able to undermine the whole sorry system and eventually brought the whole New Glasgow Culture crashing down around the ears of those who had been too deaf to listen to the detractors, who had foreseen this moronisation of the people.
This ‘coup’ was unfortunately deemed to be illegal and resulted in Transmission becoming a proscribed organisation and being forced underground. Here it flourished under the patronage of a local artist who had become very rich and famous by selling his work outside Scotland and who asked nothing in return except that the gallery continued in the way it always had. Just after the debacle of The Trongate Affair, the final nail in the coffin for the city fathers was the Purple Wednesday Crash of 2014. Printed money became obsolete overnight, causing mayhem and revolt across the globe, particularly from those who didn’t have credit cards and were therefore excluded from the new system. Since many people in Scotland still lived a hand to mouth existence this was, indeed, bad news for the city fathers. It was all over for them. New Glasgow Culture has gone for good (or so everyone thought).
So, ironically, although the period of New Glasgow Culture is now wholly discredited, and has in fact become an aphorism to describe the banalisation of culture, it is this period the new city fathers chose to represent in Scotia – The Living History of a Small Nation, fifty years after the debacle itself. This was simply because it was the period that had garnered the most global media attention and everyone remembered it, for better or worse. Some say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but I’m not so sure.
Thus, as it was in Real Life, now it is in the theme park.Transmission is still a proscribed organisation but continues to flourish to this day, presenting thoughtful, challenging exhibitions in temporary, out of the way spaces. Some aspects of its exhibition structure resemble the popular rave culture of the late twentieth Century, where you hear of a new exhibition from a complex grapevine of friends and acquaintances. People gather illegally on their days off from working in the theme park arranging to meet at a particular ferry terminal somewhere, desperate to see something new and real and engaging. For although the park is fascinating to the tourists, it is, of course, very, very boring for those who live and work there. Transmission events and exhibitions have become somewhat vogueish with the more intrepid tourists who vie with each other over the most obscure and exciting shows they have seen, but it is mainly the indigenous population who enjoy them. Unfortunately these exhibitions get closed down with great rapidity as they are illegal. Records are always kept in the old book form and these get distributed widely although they are banned and destroyed if found. Sometimes these books are produced in such a way as to look like a relatively innocuous text or history book, so they can be surreptitiously inserted into public library collections. A strategy currently popular is to place these books into public collections of times gone by, using a standard linear time shift document transferral. Thus the books and information of the future are already in circulation decades before the actual events described have happened.
If you hadn’t guessed already, this is how you are able to read this history now, almost one hundred years early. This document transferral technique usually doesn’t change much of the course of history because the future always seems too fantastic to believe before it actually happens. I mean, who would have believed the incredible history of the twentieth Century if you’d foretold it in 1899? Thus it is with the twenty-first and twentieth Centuries. So let us take a moment to join together, raise a glass and make a toast to Transmission. Happy hundredth birthday, here’s to the future…
(To be continued…)